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India Inc's artistic acquisitions

India Inc's love for art is only growing. Even better, it is not restricted to boardrooms and C-suite offices any longer

Jasodhara Banerjee
Published: Oct 13, 2015 06:54:58 AM IST
Updated: Oct 12, 2015 03:33:21 PM IST

RPG Enterprises

‘Art is not meant to be an investment. It should give you happiness’

by Harsh Goenka

India Inc's artistic acquisitions

(Clockwise from above)
Atul Dodiya’s ‘Goldfish: A Tribute to Matisse’, an acrylic and oil painting on canvas at the Mumbai headquarters of RPG Enterprises; an oil on canvas work by Laxman Shreshtha; a selection of artists’ portraits (RPG’s collection includes nearly 800 portraits)

Our family resided in Kolkata, where I spent my childhood. Art and culture was all around. My family had a collection of Indian miniatures and my job, as a young boy, was to catalogue them. Although I didn’t like the tedious work, it built an awareness of, and association with, art. I think this is when my love affair with art began.

The art world, to me, reflects a hotbed of intellectual issues: Every piece of art deals with politics, philosophy and emotions, and is an attempt to grapple with meanings. When I moved to Mumbai, I discovered the need to decorate my walls, and that’s when I first bought my paintings. My passion blossomed and I continued to collect, sometimes purposefully and sometimes driven by want. It has been more than 35 years since I began collecting, and I don’t know the number of artworks I have. As a collector, I buy the art that I enjoy, understand and find fulfilling, whether it be paintings, sculptures or a fine piece of furniture.

Most of my collection—displayed in our offices and homes—comprises Indian contemporary art. It also includes an interesting and unique collection of self-portraits by artists—there must be nearly 800 of them. Some of them are of one artist painting another. I always wanted to understand the mind of an artist. By nature, they are enigmatic and reclusive, and I want to discover more about them. I have also enjoyed building a collection of works on Mother Teresa, who is an icon to me.
With regard to the type of paintings, there is a lot of variety. Earlier, I was fond of somewhat violent and emotional works. Now I prefer art that is more peaceful and serene.

I have built my collection by buying from galleries or directly from artists. Today, the number of people investing in art is a lot. Commercialisation has crept in, which is not good for creativity. I never enjoyed this kind of a relationship with art. Art is not meant to be an investment. It should give you happiness and joy when you look at it.

Although I find every piece of art that I have to be unique and I cannot single out a particular painting as a favourite, there is a work by Akbar Padamsee that I enjoy the most. There is a strange connect that I have formed with the painting.

(The author is chairman, RPG Enterprises)

Deutsche Bank

Making art work

by Jasodhara Banerjee
India Inc's artistic acquisitions
Image: Vikas Khot
Partho Dutta’s charcoal on paper work titled ‘Two horses’

Deutsche Bank began collecting art in 1945, focussing on contemporary German talent. In addition to works by Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, it buys the works of artists in the early stages of their career. Works of photographers Thomas Ruff and Andreas Gursky were acquired before they became famous, as was the case with Neo Rauch and others from the Leipzig School.

‘Art works’, the motto of the bank’s art programme, is based on the belief that art enriches people and shows new perspectives. In line with this motto, Deutsche Bank gives its employees, clients and the public the opportunity to access contemporary art through its collection at the workplace, at international exhibitions, at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin, and through educational programmes.

Globally, the Deutsche Bank Collection comprises around 60,000 artworks, mainly drawings, photographs and prints, and can be seen in more than 900 of its office buildings around the world.

Its India collection began in the summer of 1993, soon after restoration work began on the Tata Palace in Mumbai, which would be renamed Deutsche Bank House and would serve as the bank’s headquarters in India. The Neo-classical building houses ArtSpace, an open-air space where the bank’s annual art show is hosted for clients.

In keeping with the bank’s global approach to collecting art, the focus in India too has been on emerging talent. More than 250 Indian and international masterpieces of modernist art are now displayed over two floors at Deutsche Bank’s India corporate offices in Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla Complex. The collection includes works by Chittrovanu Mazumdar, Bhagwan Chavans, Alex Mathew, SH Raza, Ram Kumar and Tyeb Mehta. The collection also includes prints of German works; the plan is to replace several of these with originals, although not the corresponding ones.

India Inc's artistic acquisitions
Image: Vikas Khot
Tyeb Mehta’s oil on canvas painting ‘Trussed bull’; Nataraj Sharma’s oil on canvas work called ‘Blind man/girl with flowers’

Tucked away in one remote corner of the office floor is what is called ‘Baselitz’s Bay’—a tranquil strip that overlooks the vast open expanses of BKC where employees can get some quiet time. The walls are lined with Georg Baselitz’s characteristic ‘upside-down’ landscapes.

The bank has an on-site team—part of the same team that is led by conservationist Anupam Shah, chief conservation consultant at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya—which works on maintaining and restoring the artworks, as well as rotating and relocating paintings within the office as the need arises.

Apart from concerns over humidity, there are issues such as protecting paintings from direct sunlight (a particular challenge in an office surrounded by glass external walls), and ensuring they are placed beyond the reach of the heads of people sitting around corner tables or walking through narrow corridors and bends.

 Hence the artworks are either framed in non-reflective glass, or placed high up on the wall.

It is amusing to learn that some teams are so attached to certain artworks that they refuse to part with them even for restoration work. “I am allowed to take the painting for restoration on a Friday evening and ensure it is back in that specific office by Monday morning,” says a bank official involved with the ongoing work on the collection.

There are other paintings that don’t find any takers at all. “There is a drawing by Jogen Chowdhury, ‘Monster’, that people say they feel uncomfortable with. No one wants it for their office.” says the official. “But, personally, I love it. It reminds me of Sukumar Ray’s ‘Abol Tabol’.”


‘Art is addictive; once you get into it, you are in for good’

by Richa Agarwal

India Inc's artistic acquisitions
Image: Tulu Sinha for Forbes India
(From left) Works by Ganesh Haloi, Bikash Bhattacharjee, MF Husain and Satish Gujral in a conference room at Emami Towers in Kolkata; ‘The Mutant’, sculptures by Chintan Upadhyay at the office

Art, for us at Emami, has been a passion that dates back a few decades. Mr RS Agarwalji believed that in the past it was the prerogative of kings and nobles to promote fine arts; in today’s age and time, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of industrialists to do the same.

About 30 years ago, acting on an impulse, despite limited resources, Agarwalji bought works by Ganesh Haloi, Jogen Chowdhury and Bijon Chowdhury for just Rs 8,000. One can well imagine their worth in today’s time.

When we were building Emami Towers in Kolkata in 2005, our founder-chairmen Mr RS Agarwal and Mr RS Goenka wanted to make the building aesthetically complete, and what better way than to showcase art. In the process of buying art, we got in touch with a lot of artists, collectors, and friends who inspired us to promote art in a much larger way.

Hence, the birth of Emami Art, a gallery spread over 15,000 square feet within our office. We have a busy art calendar for the year, including shows by Aarti Zaveri and Arpana Caur, and by Polish artist, Krzysztof Rapsa, at our gallery. Our annual event, the Emami Art Annual Exhibition, gives first-time art buyers and art connoisseurs an opportunity to buy artworks at reasonable prices.

Starting Emami Art also acted as a trigger for us to become collectors; art is addictive and once you are in it, you are in for good. The only philosophy behind our collection is a love and sentiment for quality and excellence. We have more than 5,000 artworks, including paintings, sculptures and miniatures. In our offices, you will find works by younger artists sharing space with celebrated works by the masters. Quality is the great leveller in our love for art. In fact, we have a space called Art Walk in the South City Mall where we regularly showcase the works of upcoming artists.

Art is now displayed on all the floors of Emami Towers and all our offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Balasore (Odisha), and Bhubaneshwar, our factories and guest houses too. We have a collection of Indian masters, and also a wide collection of handicrafts. We are looking forward to commissioning a 60,000 square feet building—it will be completely dedicated to art—in 2016. It will include a museum, an art shop, galleries, and a restoration centre.

We have an in-house team to look after the collection; we also bring in conservationists who decide on what work needs to be done. However, apart from maintenance, the biggest challenge of keeping an art collection is, perhaps, doing justice to them.  

Richa Agarwal is head of Emami Art, and wife of Aditya Vardhan Agarwal, director, Emami Group of Companies

(As told to Jasodhara Banerjee)

Jindal Steel and Power Limited

All things Indian

by Jasodhara Banerjee

India Inc's artistic acquisitions
Image: Amit Verma

Shallu Jindal is not an impulsive art buyer. Sometimes she takes weeks, and even a few months, to decide on whether she wants to buy a particular work of art. Only when she is convinced that her initial liking for the artwork has not waned over time, does she go in for the purchase. “The artwork has to have longevity,” says Jindal, president of JSPL Foundation and wife of Naveen Jindal, chairman of Jindal Steel and Power Limited.

Shallu Jindal, a trained kuchipudi dancer, has always been close to art forms, but it was after her marriage to Naveen that she found herself surrounded by paintings by the masters. She turned collector around 14 years ago and has built the collection—“there are so many artworks, I don’t really know how many we have!” she says—with a focus on young artists (although it does include works by MF Husain, Tyeb Mehta and SH Raza) and Indian contemporary art. While many of these works adorn the walls of the company’s office in Gurgaon, others are located in its offices in Odisha and Chhattisgarh. “There are also many in storage,” adds Jindal.

The collection comprises works depicting and interpreting the Indian national flag, a tribute to Naveen Jindal’s campaign that led to a revision in the Flag Code of India and now grants every private citizen the right to hoist the tricolour publicly on all days of the year. “The idea behind these works was to raise awareness about our national flag. Not everyone can hoist the flag, as it involves protocol like bringing it down at sunset…” she says. “These works, by artists like Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher, were commissioned when they were relatively unknown.”

Selecting an upcoming artist to commission a work is also a process that takes time. “I go to a lot of exhibitions. Sometimes I keep going back to see the works of an artist, and if I like something I then do research on them to see what their other works, earlier works have been like.”   

“I like artworks that depict reality,” she adds, referring to works by Jagannath Panda. “The kind of themes that he paints is something that I find very appealing.” Also on her preference list are rustic colours and styles, as found in works by Gogi Saroj Pal. “There is a certain rawness in the way she draws, the colours she uses.”


‘The cerebral activity of the scientist had to find its counterpoint in the activity of the senses’

by Jasodhara Banerjee

India Inc's artistic acquisitions
Image: Courtesy of TIFR Archives
(From right) ‘Depth’ by Ram Kumar; ‘Horizon’ by Shanti Dave; ‘Figures in blue’ by Vinod Shah; ‘Seated figure’ by Tyeb Mehta; ‘Lamp’ by MF Husain and ‘Durga’ by Krishen Khanna

The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) is a National Centre of the Government of India for advanced study and fundamental research in nuclear science and mathematics. Its research encompasses all branches of natural science, mathematics and computer science.

TIFR is also home to a priceless collection of art—owned and managed entirely by the institute—which makes it unique among scientific institutions. Its collection consists of more than 300 artworks, comprising paintings, sculptures and a few antiquities.

Homi J Bhabha, who founded the institute in 1945, was not only a famous scientist, but was also an artist himself, and a great connoisseur and a patron of the arts. He started acquiring paintings for TIFR—the first painting was bought in 1952—while it was still functioning out of the Old Yacht Club. He had a small group of people who advised him on the institute’s art acquisition strategy, and by the late 1950s there were enough paintings in the collection to arrange a salon-style exhibition at the club.

Bhabha mainly acquired paintings from artists who either painted or exhibited in Bombay. He would often be present on the first day of the exhibition. He was also a close friend of some of the artists of the Progressive Artists’ Group, and bought several of their works for nominal prices, thus founding the priceless collection. Artists like KH Ara and MF Husain were frequent visitors to TIFR. In fact, Husain was a resident at TIFR for two years while he worked on the grand ‘Bharat Bhagya Vidhata’.

India Inc's artistic acquisitions

‘Bharata Bhagya Vidhata’, a 45-foot mural by MF Husain, was commissioned by TIFR and emerged from a competition that ran from the end of 1962 into the first months of 1963. Thirteen artists were invited to submit their designs; of these 10 responded and MF Husain was chosen for the work

MGK Menon joined TIFR in 1954, and would accompany his mentor, Bhabha, to most of the art exhibitions, where he got to know many of the artists personally and imbibed some of Bhabha’s love and  appreciation for art. When Menon was made director of TIFR, following the untimely death of Bhabha in a plane crash in 1966, he continued the tradition of acquiring artworks.

This continued regularly till the mid-1970s. But the acquisitions dwindled and eventually stopped around the turn of the century, not because of lack of enthusiasm or appreciation in TIFR itself, but mainly because of the lack of financial support, as the government funding agencies, on which TIFR depends, developed different sets of priorities over the years.

The philosophy behind the collection has been very well expressed in Rudi von Leyden’s book Homi Bhabha as Artist: “Dr Bhabha felt very strongly that the cerebral activity of the scientist had to find its counterpoint in the activity of the senses, in art. He was alive to the danger of the ‘two cultures’, the scientific and the artistic, which in their misunderstanding and mistrust of each other create a schizophrenic human society.”

When the institute moved to its permanent campus in 1962, it gave Bhabha the opportunity to decorate it and thus indulge his love for art, and also showcase the best in contemporary Indian art. Apart from the institute’s campus in Colaba, Mumbai, other TIFR centres—in Pune, Ooty and Bengaluru—also house some of the paintings from the collection. The artworks are displayed in prominent places: Corridors, lecture rooms, the canteen and in some of the offices.
The collection is maintained by TIFR staff. Protecting the collection from humidity is the biggest challenge in maintaining the collection. The paintings are checked regularly, and, if needed, art conservationists are brought in to restore the works.

(This story appears in the 16 October, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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